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Med Health Care Philos. 2013 Nov;16(4):775-88. doi: 10.1007/s11019-013-9482-4.

From playfulness and self-centredness via grand expectations to normalisation: a psychoanalytical rereading of the history of molecular genetics.

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Institute for Science, Innovation and Society (ISIS), Department of Philosophy and Science Studies (Chair), Centre for Society and the Life Sciences (CSG), University of Nijmegen, Nijmegen, The Netherlands,


In this paper, I will reread the history of molecular genetics from a psychoanalytical angle, analysing it as a case history. Building on the developmental theories of Freud and his followers, I will distinguish four stages, namely: (1) oedipal childhood, notably the epoch of model building (1943-1953); (2) the latency period, with a focus on the development of basic skills (1953-1989); (3) adolescence, exemplified by the Human Genome Project, with its fierce conflicts, great expectations and grandiose claims (1989-2003) and (4) adulthood (2003-present) during which revolutionary research areas such as molecular biology and genomics have achieved a certain level of normalcy--have evolved into a normal science. I will indicate how a psychoanalytical assessment conducted in this manner may help us to interpret and address some of the key normative issues that have been raised with regard to molecular genetics over the years, such as 'relevance', 'responsible innovation' and 'promise management'.

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